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The God-Talk Club and Merry Christmas

Christmas in the post-War United States
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*Jerry joined the group last, looked straight at Bob and said “Merry Christmas!” Not only did he say it, but he said it cheerfully and with attitude.

“I see you enjoy annoying me,” muttered Bob.

“I thought you’d be offended,” said Jerry. “Isn’t that the normal atheist response to a simple greeting?”

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” said Mac. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Well, it does bother me,” said Bob. “I wouldn’t say it offends me. But it annoys me that Christians don’t acknowledge that there are people who aren’t buying into their holiday.”

“Don’t you even exchange presents?” asked Mark.

“Only as much as I’m forced to by the season. I’d rather just deal with birthdays and more secular or political holidays. I’d go with 4th of July presents, for example, or maybe Constitution Day presents. Those would be good.”

“Bah humbug!” said Mac. Mandy laughed.

“I’d think you, of all people, would understand,” said Bob.

“Oh, I understand in a way. It’s just that I don’t feel the need to fight a major cultural event. Christmas is no more religious than New Year’s Day to most people. Even the Christians who celebrate it don’t really get that religious. A Christmas Eve service or Christmas Mass, but the rest is about family, money, and gifts.”

“But what if someone starts pushing the religious stuff at you?” asked Bob.

“Well,” said Mac and paused. “I’m trying to figure out how that would be any different from someone pushing religious stuff at you any other time of the year.”

“But during the Christmas season it’s everywhere. Bell ringers, Christmas parties, church services, and everybody wondering whether you’re going or not.”

“I don’t see how you’re forced to get involved in any of that,” said Mandy.

“It’s the constant bother. I can’t go through a day without having someone come at me with their religion.”

“What I find offensive is that everyone at stores and in public offices wishes me Happy Holidays. The big holiday is Christmas. Why can’t they say it?”

“But what about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? Don’t you think they deserve mention?” asked Mark.

“I have no problem with them being mentioned,” said Jerry. “But I still think the big holiday is Christmas. I know it’s not a popular position, but we are a Christian nation.”

“Except where we’re not,” said Mandy.

“What do you mean?” asked Jerry.

“I really don’t see that much ‘Christian’ about our nation,” said Mandy. “I don’t mean separation of church and state stuff. I’m not talking about politics. But what does a motto like ‘In God We Trust’ mean when we pretty much don’t trust in God? What’s ‘one nation under God’ when we really don’t look to God in any of our decisions. I don’t see anything in our official documents or in the way that we live that makes us a Christian nation.”

“But we should be,” said Justine.

“Why?” asked Mark.

“You’re studying for the ministry,” said Justine. “Don’t you think it’s good for people to accept Jesus, put their trust in God, and be under God?”

“I think those are good things, but I have a hard time seeing why they should be part of our country’s laws. That seems to be trying to force people to be religious.”

“Or spiritual,” said Mandy.

“So not only do you want to wish me Merry Christmas, Justine, you want to force me to believe as you do,” said Bob.

“No, I wouldn’t force you to believe, but I would require you to show respect, and I would require moral behavior. The Bible says that God blesses those nations that obey him.”

“I think that’s misapplying God’s promises to Israel–a theocracy–to another nation,” said Mandy. “There’s no reason to see America as specifically chosen by God.”

“You know,” said Mac, “this is a bit off the topic we started with. Jerry, apart from wanting to turn us into a theocracy …”

“That’s not true!” said Jerry interrupting.

“… Why do you want to offend people like Bob? What would it hurt you to say ‘Happy Holidays’ to people who don’t believe in your religion?”

“Because it is my religion! I don’t see why I should have to pretend otherwise.”

“But I wouldn’t think you weren’t a Christian if you wished me Happy Holidays,” said Bob. “I’d just think you were polite!”

“It doesn’t seem polite to me,” said Bob. “It seems weak. It seems like we’re afraid of our differences so we have to conceal them.”

“That’s probably the one good argument I’ve heard,” said Mandy. “But I still don’t agree. I think we acknowledge that there are differences, and that it’s OK.”

“But I don’t think differences are OK. I think Jesus is the savior of the World and only those who believe in him will be in heaven. The rest will go to hell, and that’s not OK!” Jerry was vehement. “I want nothing to do with religious pluralism.”

“I’m not talking about religious pluralism. I’m talking about courtesy,” said Mandy. “I also expect we’ll have differences as long as there are humans on earth. I’m willing to live with that. I see no point in trying to force people, and until we can be 100% certain we’re right, I think we should celebrate differences.”

Bob, Mac, and Mark applauded. Justine looked thoughtful. It was Bob that broke up the discussion.

“I’m afraid, folks, that I must go,” he said. “I have to attend a holiday party.”

That gave everyone a good parting laugh.

*This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, and events are products of my imagination. It’s part of the God-Talk Club series. Copyright © 2010, Henry E. Neufeld.

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